I saw Mad Max: Fury Road again last week and marveled for the third time at its ability to convey incredibly complex action scenes with rare clarity. My wife (and plenty of others) don't understand my fascination with the film. "What makes this different from Transformers?" she asks. "It's just two hours of action and explosions." Well, I think there's a LOT that elevates it above dreck like Transformers, but below is an interesting contrast. The first video is about "Bayhem," a pejorative term given to Michael Bay's style of filmmaking, and it does a great job of illustrating (part) of why his films are so mind-numbing. The second is a short example of how George Miller shot and edited Mad Max for maximum clarity. These two examples of the art of cinema are a lot like the way I often talk about writing: poor writing is overblown and meandering while good writing is succinct and clear.
In Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, the antagonist who sabotages many a creative undertaking goes by the name Resistance. Resistance wears many disguises. It might show up as the deadlines and demands of your day job, the apparent indifference of the people around you, or your own apathy toward the “industry” of making art. Or sometimes it looks like vegging on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and seven seasons of Parks and Rec on Hulu. (At least... um... that’s what I’ve heard...) For many unfinished manuscripts, stagnating blogs, blank canvases, and forgotten songs, Resistance is at least one of the cuprits.
“Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. Resistance is experienced as fear... If it meant nothing to us, there'd be no Resistance.”When it comes to turning my work loose in the world, lately, the Resistance is me.
Several weeks back, I found myself in Vancouver with nothing to do. So I left my hotel room to wander around the city and made it about fifty feet before stumbling into The Paper Hound, an amazing boutique used bookstore. The surprise of finding such an excellent shop along with the fine selection of books made me go tharn. I determined to return to my room for a few minutes to collect my wits and mentally prepare a list of titles to search. This is how I discovered my hotel room rested directly above the bookshop. The serendipity was irrefutable. I knew I had to spend time and money below the floorboards of The Victorian, where I was staying. Over at Alan Jacobs’s Text Patterns blog, I have been following his technological history of modernity project. The thought occurred to me that so long as I was in Canada, I might try searching for a Canadian author in a Canadian used bookstore. Jacobs recommends Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology. She was German but made her life and scholastic career in Canada. Good enough. So I trotted out of my squeaky-floored hotel room, down the hall, past the fire escape, out of the front door, down the stairs, around the corner, and into the lusty smell of The Paper Hound’s book stacks, where I took my time getting to the section I figured would contain Franklin’s book. It did. Ursula Franklin is my new favorite Wendell Berry.
In the early to mid '80s, I was a boy in a family where I was allowed to have a He-Man action figure, but not Skeletor. I could play with Lion-O but not Mumm-Ra. I don't know, maybe they could throw a costume party or set up a lemonade stand together---but those muscles and swords were NOT for fighting evil. Actually, I can remember our church passing out a list around Christmas of what toys were and weren't appropriate. For a few years, I had to choose Christmas gifts off of that list. Thankfully, I was allowed to have both G.I. Joe and Cobra, Luke and Vader, and even those little, pink M.U.S.C.L.E. guys on the no-no list.
It’s a Johnson Century reel, model number 100B, made in the U.S.A. It used to be my Dad’s---the reel I used when I went fishing as a kid. There’s a white release button with a smooth indent where your thumb fits, and it makes a delicious click when you push it down. Even sitting on a 5-gallon bucket in the garage, I can’t hear that click without hearing also what comes next, the whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr of a line making hope’s arc to heaven, rising like the angel Gabriel leaving the Virgin Mary, then suddenly recognizing that he’d forgotten something. At its peak, that line is carried by gravity down to the earth, down into the dark, wet, green, down near the thick, red mud where the soul of a fish gets itself wooed. “I will make you fishers of men,” Jesus said to those leathered few who already knew by trade how hard it was to fish for fish. Fish are fickle as women, and women are fickle as men, and I don’t know how to sink down into the shadows where I am called to go forth and woo, and to preach, and to mother, down in this cold, blind darkness. The line wasn’t rolled up right the last time this reel was used, and somehow it’s got wound all around the rod handle. A big mess is hanging down in an irreverent tangle, looking like a pretty little blonde baby whose momma didn’t fix her hair before they went out to the I.G.A. to pick up a carton of cigarettes and a sack of light bread.
[Read Part I here.] One of the boundaries that has helped me integrate my creativity and my spirituality is the sister-discipline of solitude. I’m a true monastic at heart, but it has been extremely hard for me to come to a place where I’m not crippled by guilt in my efforts to live in a way that is, as Macrina Wiederkehr so lovingly put it, "kind to my own soul," to make choices with my days---even small ones---that are not only good for me emotionally and creatively, but that keep my heart calibrated to its true north. In a world that is whirling faster than ever, I long for soul anchors, rituals and ancient rhythms that connect me to my center. One of the things I do, in an effort to make my days more liturgical, more centered, is to try to keep the traditional monastic hours of prayer---I want to emphasize try. Some days it doesn’t happen at all, and there’s not a single day I have kept every one of them. But the “interruption” of a few moments of prayer in the midst of a busy day keeps me connected to the Source that makes my work meaningful, whether it’s doing the laundry or cooking a meal or writing a novel. Two practical helps have been Seven Sacred Pauses, a layperson’s guide to the monastic hours by the Benedictine sister Macrina Wiederkehr, and Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours, a series of prayerbooks divided into the seasons of the year. Another anchor is the commitment I’ve made to show up at my desk for at least two hours a day. After years of struggling to justify the habit, it’s finally become a debt of honor---whether anything “productive” comes of it or not, I’m learning to accept this discipline as part and parcel of each day’s obedience.
Over the years people have encouraged me to do a picture book. I love to paint and I love to write, so why not put those things together? And I’ve wanted to, but I simply haven’t. Other projects have crowded it out, or I’ve started and then given up, overwhelmed by the enormity of it [...]
Usually by the end of the year, the Internet floods with the best of everything lists. When the time comes to make said lists, I imagine I’m not the only one who feels like it’s a huge project to just remember everything I’ve heard in twelve months. So, since we are just over the halfway point in an exceptionally good year for music, I thought it would be fun to talk about our favorite albums so far. It's only scratching the surface of this year's goodness, but I'll get things started with five I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order. What would you add? What do you have on repeat until The Burning Edge of Dawn comes out? Disclaimer: In the interest of fun / pointless self-imposed rules / sharing new things with friends, I decided to only include artists that haven’t been covered at The Rabbit Room yet. So yes, do go read Matt Conner’s post about Josh Garrels’ fantastic new record and buy everything Andrew Osenga releases, especially when it involves glorious '90s rock riffs.
[Day One] [Day Two] [Day Three] [Day Four] [Day Five: Part One] [Day Five: Part Two] [Day Six] DAY SEVEN 25/02/15 Oxford With that lead-in, I need to confess: I'm not necessarily a fantasy-fiction guy. Put a history of early America or a book about book-collecting in my hands, shut me in a padded room, and I'm as giddy as Gollum with his precious ring. Shut me in with a roomful of fantasy board-gamers, and I'm as cranky and miserable as Gollum without his precious ring. Look, I'm coming clean, don't throw vegetables at me.
When we asked Walter Wangerin Jr. to speak at Hutchmoot 2010, we scarcely imagined that he'd accept our invitation, much less that in a few short years Rabbit Room Press would publish his newest book. Yet here we are, lovely new books in hand, and it's release day for Everlasting Is the Past. In this new memoir, Walter Wangerin Jr. takes us on a journey into the past to experience his loss of faith as a young seminarian, his struggle to find a place for his chosen vocation amid a storm of doubts, and his eventual renewal in the arms of an inner-city church called Grace. With his inimitable style and keen eye for detail, he remembers his own story and gives it to us as an everlasting testament to the faithfulness of God. It's been a pleasure and an honor to help bring this story to the world, and with it's tales of denominational struggle, doubt, racial conflict, and grace, it's a book that we are proud to be a part of, and a story we think people need to hear. Everlasting Is the Past is now available in the Rabbit Room store and wherever great books are sold.
“So, what’s your story, Hannah?” The magic of North Wind Manor settled close as one of the guests asked the question of another. One was a long time Rabbit Roomer. The other, a friend of Andrew’s, saw a tweet and came. By the candlelight in the old kitchen, they exchanged stories—and the exchange of stories became the currency of the night. The story we came to hear began years ago as a conversation between Chris Slaten (otherwise known as Son of Laughter) and Arthur Alligood as they talked of one day playing this show together. They didn’t have a set list; instead, they responded to each other, to each other’s stories. When Arthur played a song about leaving home, Chris echoed it. The stories continued, the pages turning from tales of restless running to the needing of friends and community. When Arthur sang, “It’s laughter mixed with sorrows of the soul,” he unknowingly summarized the night.
I bet you've heard the song "Babylon" by David Gray. It's the kind of song that immediately draws you in, and the first time you hear it you know it'll be around for a long time. "Let go of your heart, let go of your head, and feel it now," he sings in the chorus, followed by the word "Babylon," which fits so perfectly in the groove and the melody that it's hard to imagine anything else in its place. What a strange word to throw into a song about a broken relationship, right? But wait. Let's put on our school caps and take a quick look at what's unfolding in the lyric.
Read the first part of this series here. A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend my first writing conference. Having never been to one before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I ended up gleaning a lot of great advice from the experienced writers, editors, and publishers who were gathered there. One moment that particularly stuck out to me was during a panel discussion, when one of the writers dropped a comment that has been on my mind ever since. He referred to the work of writing as being a creative “long obedience in the same direction” (which is a quote from Nietzsche but has also been popularized by author Eugene Peterson).
When a musical is constructed with attention to detail and integrity, the dialogue, acting, and music score spin their own complex stories that weave together the overall plot. They underpin the narrative, offering a profusion of information that envelops the audience in details. In the same way, costumes, sets, lighting, props, audio, and every other aspect of the show tells the story through its own medium—echoing, reinforcing, and building upon the themes of the master narrative. As Myth’s opening night approaches, wardrobe scrambles to finish each outfit. Besides the costume designer, three girls and I form the wardrobe team. We come to rehearsal as often as our schedules allow and help the designer with whatever the costumes need, whether that be cutting, hemming, beading, or even hot gluing. Each costume tells its character’s story, some in color or shape, some in progression throughout the show, and each character’s clothing is proportional to their cultural rank and importance in the story. The costume designer creates each piece with calculated detail so the audience will know not only how integral each person is, but also who they are.
This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24I’ve known that Bible verse as long as I can remember, because I’ve always known the song. It was the first song my son Benjamin learned to sing, and the first song my daughter Livi learned to play and sing on the piano. Because “This is the Day" lives with us, pulsing through our memory, we will always have a cosmic context for celebrating the arrival of a sunrise. In the Spring of 2013, when Sing the Bible was still just a dream, we hoped to create an entire CD of Scripture songs as memorable as “This Is the Day,” with the added ambition of humor and artistic depth. Families had been memorizing Slugs & Bugs songs for years, but if we succeeded, they would soon be memorizing God’s Word at the same time. Two years later, we’ve sold almost 20,000 physical copies of Sing the Bible with Slugs & Bugs plus thousands more digitally---making it our fastest selling Slugs & Bugs CD ever. On a personal level, my own kids (and I) have memorized more Scripture than ever before, and (unbelievably) they still enjoy listening to the songs in the car. They now remember Galations 5:1 and Deuteronomy 6:5 as easily as I remember “This Is the Day.” In the wake of all this excitement, deciding to make Sing the Bible Volume 2 was a no-brainer.